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Training and techniques for better hiking

By Tina Crowder community Columnist - | Apr 18, 2014
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Hiking down a steep slope is best done by keeping the knees slightly bent, and one's center of gravity over the feet. Trekking poles give you four points of contact with the ground, and take some of your body's weight off the knees. 

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Every 20-30 minutes, take a short break to rehydrate or peel off a layer of clothing. It's very important to stay well-hydrated throughout a long hike. 

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The rest step, in which you lock the back leg and transfer all your weight to it, gives you a micro-rest with each step. Here I am climbing the Cascade Saddle with Shingle Mill Peak in the background. 

Now that spring is here, the warm weather is beckoning you to get outside and enjoy this beautiful playground we call the Wasatch Front.

Whether your goal for the year is to climb Mt. Timpanogos, take the scouts backpacking, or just go hiking with friends and family, the time to start preparing is now!

Effective training allows you to improve speed, build strength and practice endurance so you can be prepared to hike a wide variety of trail conditions. Along with training, learning proper hiking technique will help you conserve energy, avoid injury and enjoy yourself on the trail.

If you are consistent, you will notice improvement in a matter of weeks and the idea of hiking a trail you have only dreamed about will become a reality.

Hill climbing

The key to getting in optimum hiking shape is to develop the large muscles, namely the quads and glutes. The best way to do this is to train on hills for 60 minutes, 2-3 times per week.

Find a steep, paved hill and simply walk up it, at an even pace, but pushing yourself to the point where you are breathing hard, increasing your aerobic capacity. As you come down, you will recover. Climb up and down as many times as you can in that hour. On the alternate days, build endurance by walking or hiking several miles on gentle terrain, increasing your distance as you improve.

Conditioning hikes

Nothing can train you better for a long hike or mountain climb than getting out on a real trail, which is unpredictable with constant change in steepness, pitch and surface.

Some popular conditioning hikes you can hike for as long as you have the time for, and then turn around to return to your car, are trails such as the “Y,” Rock Canyon, Dry Canyon, Battle Creek Canyon and Grove Creek Canyon.

What about cadence?

Have you ever hiked with someone who seems to be able to hike forever without tiring? Chances are they have good cadence, or hiking rhythm. This means that a person’s steps are consistently the same length and time for the duration of the hike. This allows you to hike for longer distances, keep your breathing steady (which helps deliver oxygen to the muscles), avoid tiring, conserve energy for the hills, avoid injuries and enjoy the experience.

How to find your pace?

Start out with a pace that seems easy, and step it up to a point where you can maintain a conversation, but feel you are getting a workout. If you get to a point where you cannot talk, you are in an anaerobic zone and will not be getting enough oxygen to your muscles and vitals, thus making you feel weak. Hike the same trail during the week and try to keep the pace consistent. Next, aim for steeper inclines, which will require shorter (but not faster) steps. At this point you will want to learn the “rest step.”

Rest step

This technique, practiced by mountaineers, increases your energy efficiency on very steep hills. As you step forward, lock your rear knee, keeping all your body weight on that rear leg bone. This allows your leg, hip and back muscles to get a micro-rest on every step. You can rest in this position for a fraction of a second, or longer on steeper inclines.Your locked knee will now provide a firm anchor to “push off” from as you take the next step.

Now swing your other leg forward, keeping it relaxed, so there is no weight on it, then shift your weight onto that front leg, lock and repeat the process. For a demonstration on YouTube, click on this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5cFBkuMpmE

Use trekking poles

Trekking poles give you four points of contact with the ground for greater control and stability. They also work your arm muscles, take stress off your back and hips and transfer it to your upper body, help you maintain balance, and allow you to conserve energy.


Keep your breaks short and regular so that your muscles don’t have a chance to cool down and stiffen, making it more difficult to get back up and continue hiking. Take a 2-minute break about every 20-30 minutes to shed a layer or rehydrate and take a 5-minute break every hour to rehydrate, eat a snack, or answer the “call of nature.” If you are hiking to a destination, take your longer break (30-60 minutes) when you reach your goal, before returning.

Hiking downhill

Many a hiker has noticed how going downhill is sometimes more difficult than climbing uphill, because of the added pressure on knees. As you hike down a steep incline, keep your center of gravity directly over your legs, neither leaning forward nor backward.

To minimize stress on your knees, keep your downhill leg slightly bent so the muscles (and not the joints) take the load. Keep your eyes on where you will be placing each foot as you go down the hill.

Over time, and as your ankles and legs get stronger, you will become more sure-footed. Using trekking poles going downhill can also help relieve some of the stress on knees.

As you take the time to train and practice your technique, you will be in condition to explore various trails along the Wasatch Front. Don’t know where to go? Check out the website WasatchHiker.com, where you will find statistics for just about every trail on the Wasatch Front, including distance, vertical gain, trailhead information, and even a Google Map outlining the trail. Most of all take time to enjoy your hikes and don’t forget your camera!””


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